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LAS VEGAS, Nevada (But The Game Is On) – There are not a lot of ways you can describe the 2010 Team USA Basketball Showcase that transpired last night. There was nothing on the line for the team overall (though, on an individual standpoint, there were roster spots to be had), there was a brand new style of play that NBA players were experiencing for the first time overall and there was an arena (mostly) full of fans cheering for their country’s best (while also booing Rajon Rondo, a Celtic in Laker territory, and LeBron James’ name, universally hated).
If there was one word to describe the night, it would be fun.
“Tonight was fun,” Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook said after the game. “It was a great experience and I enjoyed it.”
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
For both the players and the fans, an uptempo and discombobulated style of play made for a lot of turnovers, exciting fastbreak opportunities and a whole lot of three’s. That description may also fit your run of the mill Phoenix Suns game but the athletes and shooters that were on display tonight are far superior to the guys on the Suns’ squad.
The White Squad ended up topping the Blue Team 114-96 after leading the contest for the majority of its 40 minute duration. The Blue team did manage to get a three-point lead at one point but the White team was able to mount a run to put them ahead and they never looked back, once maintaining a 22 point lead before eventually finishing with an 18-point advantage.
Kevin Durant was obviously the main attraction tonight. He wasn’t very flashy and he didn’t have a single run that boosted his numbers. He was consistently great, scoring all throughout the game with his jumper and a few transition jams that got the crowd fired up. Durant finished with 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting with a pair of three’s, five rebounds and two assists. Durant also racked up seven turnovers, but those mishaps will obviously be overlooked by not only the fans but also the Team USA Basketball Staff and, with everything else he brought to the team, nobody can argue with that.
“Tonight was a great game and a great effort for both teams.” Durant said post-game. “We are going to be a team that blue collar team that’s going to come out and work hard and play hard every possession. I think that’s key in basketball. If you ask anyone of these guys, every possession is key. If we go out there and play as hard as we can and play team basketball, we’ll live with the results.”
Durant had no issues with conditioning, looked great running the floor, was after it defensively and had the regular offensive package going all night long. He’s the face of the team and likely a top three player in the NBA. Kid’s impressive and those turnovers are nothing to sweat over.
Someone that had no issues with turnovers tonight was Derrick Rose who, even with Durant having the highest scoring outputs, had the most impressive performance of the evening in my mind. When Rose entered into the league he was already one of the faster players in the league and, if its even possible, Derrick looked even faster tonight. Whether he was pushing it off a miss or a make, Rose was getting from end to end in an extremely quick manor.
Even in the halfcourt, Rose used his speed and creative ball handling skills to get by his defender (usually Rajon Rondo) and get to the rim. Derrick is unstoppable when he decides to go to the basket but he wasn’t aggressive in doing so last season which left a lot on the table in terms of his production. Tonight, there was no hesitation. Rose was in attack mode all night long and looked beautiful doing so.
“You really have to be in shape,” Rose said of playing in the uptempo pace of the International Game. “I’ll say last year, I’m in better shape than last year. It’s hard, pressuring the ball all the way up the court then when they pass up the court, really trying to get them out of their offense because it helps us. Right now, I think I’m feeling good. My knees are feeling good and like I said, we just can’t wait. We’re ready to play.”
Rose finished with 15 points on seven-of-13 shooting (with a three), eight assists, three rebounds and, in a sloppy game, five steals. Rose must have watched a lot of tape on Rajon Rondo at some point in this summer because anytime Rondo tried to pull one of his patented trick moves, Rose knew it was coming and either stole the ball himself or alerted his teammates in time for them to get it.
“It wasn’t about me,” Rose said about his play defensively. “You got to have trust, especially on the defensive end. That’s what I was doing, trying to play passing lanes to try to get to the ball, knowing my teammates have my back. We got to learn early, gotta get ready and jell quick because two weeks is going to fly by if I do make the team. It’s going to be exciting going over there with each other.”
After such a great all-around performance, which included several plays with Rose finding Stephen Curry for wide open three’s thanks to his dribble drives and a few drop off passes to Kevin Durant for dunks, Rose seems to be the favorite to start at point guard for Team USA when the team goes Turkey. Of course, the roster isn’t set yet, but after a great week with Team USA, Rose is a lock at this point to make the final 12.
“This whole experience was just fun,” Derrick said. “Going out there and competing, playing against the best players in the world. And while you’re here, you start to get to know every individual and talk to them on the regular like your brothers and start a brotherhood. I guess that’s what USA Basketball is all about, come together so that when we go over seas, it’s just us against everybody and we had a lot of fun here.”
Another player that made this USA Basketball Showcase his own showcase was Eric Gordon, a shooting guard out of Indiana that just finished his second season with the Los Angeles Clippers. Gordon doesn’t get a lot of attention because his team takes a backseat to the Lakers in Los Angeles and especially because he plays the same position that Kobe Bryant does. That being said, Gordon is a tremendous talent and an up and coming player in the NBA.
“I would hope his elevator hasn’t risen to the top … for his benefit as well as ours,” Team USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo said after the game when asked if Eric Gordon’s proverbial elevator had reached the top.” He played extremely well, shot the ball well. He’s a terrific young guard and we’re happy for the progress he’s made.”
Gordon is one of the shooting specialists in camp and shooting is what he did in this game. Gordon finished with 16 points on five-of-10 shooting with a couple of steals and an assist. Not a huge line, but when you consider that Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant were also on his team, and that his role was basically to find his spot on the arc and convert catch-and-shoot three’s when the ball was thrown to him, this game was obviously a success for the six-foot-three tweener. Gordon took seven of his 10 shots from three and four of his five makes came from beyond the arc.
“He’s was real easy to play with because the amount of time he had the ball and the amount of points that came from him was great,” Coach K said of Gordon’s play. “Getting you the ball is one thing … that is great but if you can get it to really good players in rhythm, that’s the best. And those rhythm shots are the thing that is so beautiful about the game. And, I thought he did that and Eric came through hitting like that.”
That’s exactly what Team USA will need from their two guards; consistent shooting whenever the plethora of point guards on the roster get them the ball. Additionally, Gordon competes defensively and though it may not have shown much in a game like this, defending other two guards despite his lack of ideal size, Gordon will fight on that end of the court which earns him a lot of respect from his teammates and coaching staff.
Team USA had 18 players compete in tonight’s showcase and Mr. Colangelo said this evening that they will cut the roster down to 15 for the New York practices within in the next 24-36 hours. No matter what happens, the experience that these players had this week as well as myself will never be forgotten and will help them get better as their basketball careers go on.
Much more to come on Team USA tomorrow. For now, here are some individual notes on every player from tonight’s game.
Andre Iguodala – Iguodala had a good showing this evening. His calling card with Team USA will be on the defensive end but offensively he was a nice option for the White Squad. Iguodala show five-of-six from the field with three triples on as many attempts to give him 17 points for the game. On top of that, Andre also added six rebounds and five assists to fill the box score. Iguodala is versatile as well and can play/defend at the four spot as well as his natural three position. He’s a very nice asset to have for Team USA, especially if his offense is there. His shot has been his Achilles Heel in Philly for the past two seasons but if that develops to a point of reliability for Andre, he’s going to be a pretty complete player.
Said Coach K of Iguodala: “I think Andre has had a great week. I think any of these guys would tell you that he’s an easy guy to play with. He doesn’t need the ball. I told him right after the ballgame out on the court that he was beautifully efficient. I’m not sure anyone has ever called him beautiful before … I know no one has ever called me beautiful. I was looking actually for a return of him saying, ‘well coach you look beautiful too’ … maybe as we get to know each other more, he’ll do that. Andre, yeah he can defend. You need guys out there who don’t have to touch the ball long. He’s a fun guy to play … he’ll be one of the key guys for our basketball team.”
Andre has a good understanding of what Team USA wants from him. He doesn’t think he is going to be the top scorer and he knows his way to be effective on this team is to work hard defensively.
“I just wanted to have fun tonight,” Iguodala said. “There were a few things that I wanted to accomplish during the game; play unselfish basketball, take care of the ball and play hard on defense and think I did that. I also wanted to create some pressure on defense so it would rub off on other guys and get everybody into it.”
His understanding of the team’s goals are impressive and should give him an upperhand when it comes to making the final 12.
Rudy Gay – Rudy is also going to be a defensive key for this team. He’s big, quick, strong and can guard bigger players at the power forward position. And just like last year, Gay not only contributed defensively but also scored the basketball. 23 points on seven-of-11 shooting (three three’s) for Rudy with five rebounds, two steals, two blocks and an assist. Gay, like Durant, also had seven turnovers, but again, in a game like this, those aren’t really to much of a detractor.
“I think this game was definitely a test for us,” Gay said after the game. “That’s what we scrimmage for. We came out here and we tested to see exactly where we need to be. Personally, I think – I can always get better – but I think I did pretty good out there. The people that didn’t do well, they need to go and work on it. That’s just like what Mr. Colangelo said. This is a test for us. Basically going out there to see what we need to work and we have two weeks to get better at it.”
Gay has again made some strides from last season with his game and I am impressed with what he has developed his assets to become. He is definitely going to be thought of as a defensive stopper but offensively he’ll likely play the role of Carmelo Anthony from 2008.
O.J. Mayo – Gay’s teammate, O.J. Mayo had a good game for the blue team as well. 18 points on seven-of-12 shooting. I’ve been rooting for Mayo to make this squad all week and I think his showing tonight will help a lot in getting him onto the final roster. Mayo had three three’s, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal to go with his 18 points and his game looked like it fit in really well with the fast paced action that the international rules brought with them.
Russell Westbrook - Not that impressed with Russ tonight. Jumper was off and didn’t bring much else offensively. What the coaching staff thinks of his defense (currently: very good) will determine how far he goes. Obviously, he can be better offensively, but in this game he wasn’t great.
Jeff Green – Green had a rough night as well. Missed eight of his 13 shots and a lot of his looks were easy ones. Interested to see if he makes it to the New York practice or not.
Kevin Love – He was dropping 40-footers before the game started and that got the fans rowdy. During the game, there was no ovation for Love, but he had a huge impact. Tipping lose balls, grabbing seven rebounds in 19 minutes, and fighting for everything. Wasn’t flashy but he did all the little things the big men will need to do on a guard oriented team. Oh, and don’t forget about those outlet passes. Boy were those nice to see in person.
Rajon Rondo – I was pretty disappointed with Rajon last night. After spending a lot time with him all week and writing a long feature, seeing him come out generally disinterested and out of shape wasn’t a pleasant site. Seven points, six assists (three turnovers), and two rebounds is an OK line, but he played 29 minutes (Rose played 31) and didn’t produce nearly as much as his opposition. Defensively, Rondo has a great reputation but Rose made a mockery of that tonight. Perhaps against foreign guards that aren’t Derrick Rose, Rondo would be back to his normal self but his lack of success may be traced back to a lack of interest/effort.
JaVale McGee – McGee was a long shot to make this team to begin with. He was with Team USA last year as a late addition and was again slapped onto the roster after an impressive Summer League performance. He’s the least experienced player in Vegas for this week and he got the fewest minutes out of anybody (nine) but he looked pretty good in limited minutes. There was one stretch when McGee had a dunk, a lay-up, a block and a post-move score that got the Blue team on a run and forced the White squad to call a timeout. That was one of his few stretches in the game but it was impressive and showed the potential he has. He finished with seven posts, three rebounds and a block. In nine minutes, that’s not bad. Especially for a kid that has little experience with the Wizards, let alone with players of this caliber.
Chauncey Billups – We know what he is at this point and he’s a lock to make the team. Not a whole lot to analyze with him. He did shoot two-of-10 but I guess that’s just an old man getting his legs back under him after a couple months off.
Brook Lopez - Solid NBA player. Looked pretty bad in the international game. Frequently out of position and lagging behind the play. So were the other big guys but Lopez was not involved in most offense and if it weren’t for a pretty pass from Rondo, he likely would not have scored. Lopez is thought of as a mobile big man but maybe that only applies in the Nets offense because his first experience with the international pace was not good at all.
Stephen Curry – He did play some point guard with the Warriors last season but he played alongside Derrick Rose as a shooter in this game. Curry finished three-of-seven from three on his way to scoring 14 points. Curry also pulled down six rebounds and did a good job of pushing the ball in transition. Curry is a heck of a young player and his shooting ability should shine through if he continues to get court time with a point guard like Rose, who continues to find him in spots that he can covert from.
Tyson Chandler – Chander was the most impressive center in the showcase. Tyson had 13 points on six-of-six shooting, nine rebounds (four offensive), and four blocks. He ran the floor, finished on some alley-oops and was there to get a couple of putbacks on misses from the shooters. The little things like that are big in the grand scheme of things and Chandler did a good job of making sure he got them done.
“I think Coach made a huge point earlier in the week, saying that the 10 minute quarters, we got to try to win each quarter,” Chandler said of adjusting to the shorter game lengths. “I think that the biggest thing: when you’re out there, there is no pacing yourself because it’s only 10 minutes. When it’s a longer game, the talent kind of rises but when it’s a shorter game you got to finish those quarters so that you know you win each one. So then at the end of the game, you’re leading on the scoreboard. You don’t want to allow it to be close. That was the thing that stuck out in my mind out of this week: play hard every second you’re out there because the game is shortened.”
Danny Granger – Danny didn’t get a whole lot of playing time and was in and out in quick spurts, which stopped him from getting into any kind of rhythm from the outside. I’m hoping this was a precaution regarding his shin issue because he certainly deserves some more burn and shot opportunities than he got tonight.
Gerald Wallace – Certainly Wallace is on the team for his defensive abilities but when he gets a wide open corner three, he needs to knock it down. He got that shot four times in this game and missed every look, even though they were all wide open. He did take advantage of open lanes twice to get his two baskets but he either needs to be more aggressive when he gets the ball in the corner by attacking or he needs to start making that shot.
Lamar Odom - Similar to Billups, Lamar didn’t stand out in this game and just seemed to be getting his conditioning in order. Nothing to see here.
Tomorrow, I’ll have my predictions for the three cuts expected to be made before the New York camp.